Essex County officials say the state needs to help localities with the costly expenses associated with asbestos remediation of abandoned, blighted and burned-out buildings. Pictured above: A home in Westport has been abandoned since being gutted by a fire last August.
ELIZABETHTOWN — Local officials say the state needs to help lessen the burden for localities trying to demolish blighted buildings that may contain asbestos.
Finance Committee Chairman Tom Scozzafava (R-Moriah) said he spoke with a state Department of Labor official recently about relaxing the “extremely stringent” protocol for remediating structures that contain the poisonous substance.
“We are all going to end up with properties in our community, and we’re going to have a lot more,” said Scozzafava, citing a burned out apartment building in Witherbee the town is grappling with following a fire last month.
When lawmakers discussed the mitigation of several former Frontier Town buildings last year, the cost to survey just one of the properties would have been at least $14,000, said county officials, with the numbers skyrocketing with demolition and clean up.
All properties must be treated as containing asbestos if a study has not been conducted.
Ticonderoga Codes Officer William Ball said state Code Rule No. 56 makes remediation comparatively easier for occupants, who can double-bag the substance and dispose of it through the proper channels.
But not for localities or commercial tenants.
“Just the tests you have to do is $4,000 to $5,000 per hour,” said Ticonderoga Codes Officer William Ball. “It puts a big big burden on the local municipalities.
“The state needs to come in and try to help us somewhere,” Ball said. “In Ticonderoga, there’s five or six abandoned. We need to do something about it, and we just don’t have the money.”
Scozzafava said the state regulations dissuades bidders at county tax auctions from taking ownership of the parcels following successful bids.
Two bidders in Moriah, for instance, walked away from properties they had planned on demolishing after the last sale — and more will likely follow, he said.
“Our legislative committee needs to bring this to the attention of [State Senator] Betty Little because every community is going to be full of these places,” Scozzafava told lawmakers.
Essex County Treasurer Mike Diskin said towns are between a rock and a hard place because the county can cherry pick which parcels they place on the auction block, and might opt to decline those that would pose a liability to the county.
Diskin said he flagged a burned-out building in Ticonderoga, and will recommend the county not get involved.
“And then it just sits there,” said Scozzafava. “Again, the great state of New York has made our life difficult.
“You’re so limited financially. Yeah, you can get it cleaned up if you want to bankrupt your municipality doing it.”
Gerald Morrow (D-Chesterfield) said he’s dealt with the issue in his community.
“Who’s going to pay $180,000 for a quarter-acre lot?” said Morrow.
It might be cheaper for the courts to force action, he said.
“But if the court does nothing, it’s out of our hands,” said Scozzafava.
The state Department of Labor, a spokesman told the Sun, "is always evaluating rules and regulations to ensure they’re as clear as possible, but no substantive changes to any rules governing asbestos abatement are currently under consideration."
The next county tax auction is tentatively scheduled for late July. As the lawmaker has done in the past, Scozzafava pushed county officials to regulate those who bid on parcels but ultimately opt against doing something with them.
“We have to put the brakes on that,” he said.
“I don’t disagree,” Diskin said. “I just think we need to take the right approach.”